Chess For Dummies
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Unlike traditional word or number puzzles, picture puzzles challenge you to discover differences or similarities between pictures or pieces of a picture. By following a few strategies (and they’re not just mental!), you can solid solve a puzzle and boost your brain power at the same time.

Solve picture puzzles solidly

Picture puzzles, no matter what variety you choose to solve, can be, well, puzzling. The following tips and ideas can take you well on your way to putting together a solid solving strategy that will help you solve picture puzzles every time:

  • Put together a solving routine. You don’t need to play the same music and grab your coffee in the same cup each time you sit down to do a picture puzzle. Instead, map out the order of the steps you’ll take to attack the puzzle. For example, if you’re tackling a spot-the-changes puzzle, try going from left to right, starting at the top and working your way to the bottom. Or try working it by sections in an orderly fashion (A1, A2, and so on, or A1, B1, and so on). Remember that whatever solving routine works for you may not work for someone else. No matter what you choose, find a routine you can stick to.

  • Check for the obvious. Although it may sound rather apparent, glancing through the puzzle to look for obvious things that you may be missing can be a useful strategy when beginning to solve a puzzle or when you get stuck. Sometimes focusing on details makes overlooking the obvious easy.

  • Use a pattern. Regardless of the type of puzzle you’re solving, using a pattern, a systematic approach to scouring each nook and cranny of the puzzle, keeps you focused and helps ensure that you don’t go over the same spots repeatedly. Using some type of pattern should be part of your solving routine.

  • Keep track of your work. Keeping track of what you’ve done and where you are in the puzzle helps you find your place if you have to take a break. It also helps you avoid reviewing details you’ve already checked out.

  • Dig out the details. When you’re looking at details, be as specific as possible. Don’t think of grass as just grass; think of it as long, wispy, green-yellow, ornamental grass or yellowed, bare grass that needs some mowing.

  • Take a break if you’re stuck on a puzzle. Especially if you’ve been solving for a while, you may just need a break. If so, take one, but don’t quit!

  • Free your mind. Clear the clutter from your head before you solve a picture puzzle. Get your to-do lists in order, put whatever is bothering you aside, and then focus on that puzzle.

  • Maintain focus. Limit the intrusions you’ll encounter by picking a good spot and time to solve your puzzles. Prepare for any interruptions that may distract you and try not to stop working on the puzzle until you can note where you’ve paused.

Boost your picture puzzle-solving brain power

Exercising your brain gives you an edge in solving picture puzzles. Regardless where you fall on the mental fitness meter, you will stay sharper as you age by doing some basic brain-building.

  • Challenge yourself. Be sure you’re solving picture puzzles at the right level. If you’re breezing through puzzles, you need to move up to a higher, more challenging level.

  • Use it or lose it. Your mind muscle needs a daily workout. Challenging your mind each day with picture puzzles helps to maintain your mental acuity.

  • Work a variety of puzzles. Try different types of picture puzzles, but also feel free to experiment with crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and other such puzzles that can keep your mind working in different ways.

  • Try something new. Learning something new exercises your memory as well as the way you associate things, both of which can help you solve picture puzzles better.

  • Keep your nose in a book. When you read, you learn new words and process new information, which challenges and stimulates your brain.

  • Rid yourself of mind-mushing activities. While it may be difficult to completely get rid of your online profile, texting with friends, and watching some occasional TV, keeping such activities to a minimum helps keep your brain active.

Know the types of picture puzzles

All picture puzzles are not the same. The more familiar you are with the type of puzzle you’re solving, the better you’ll be at solving it. It helps to remember exactly what you’re getting into. So here’s a primer on common types of picture puzzles you’ll encounter:

  • Spot-the-changes puzzles: These puzzles consist of two, seemingly identical pictures. However, one of the pictures contains several changes that you have to find.

  • Not puzzles: One-of-these-is-not-like-the-other puzzles, otherwise known as Not puzzles, are similar to spot-the-changes puzzles. Instead of just two pictures and several changes, Not puzzles have several pictures, one of which has just one difference from the others.

  • Cut-up puzzles: Think of cut-up puzzles as jigsaw puzzles. In these puzzles, you’re given two grids. One grid contains a picture cut into pieces and scrambled within the grid. The other grid contains just one of the picture pieces, which is correctly placed within the grid as a hint to get you started — the rest of the grid is empty. You have to place the remaining pieces within the grid and complete the picture.

Get physical to solve picture puzzles

Staying in good physical shape helps your brain in addition to your body. You can do a ton of mental exercises to raise your skill level, but keeping your body in good working order can also help you solve picture puzzles better:

  • Eat right. You just can’t get around eating right these days. But if you want to maintain or boost your mental performance, eat a balanced diet, be sure to include plenty of antioxidant-rich foods, and stay away from too much sugar.

  • Get up and get moving. Although a near-daily cardio workout that gets your blood pumping is ideal (think walking or swimming), you can reap many physical rewards by simply moving your body every day — gardening, cleaning, or carting the kids or grandkids around. Avoiding a sedentary lifestyle encourages you to make physical movement a priority in your life, and more movement equals more oxygen to your noggin, which sharpens your brain power.

  • Don’t forget to sleep. Staying up all night doing puzzles isn’t a good idea and won’t make you a better puzzle-solver. You need plenty of rest to recharge your mental and physical battery every day.

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